Mexican y (was: analytical versus inflected languages)

Tim Frazer tcf at MACOMB.COM
Tue Oct 10 23:13:46 UTC 2000

Don's right; there is more than one Spanish.  One day I remarked to my
friend from Queretero that the Spanish of the guys at "El Rancherito"
restaurant was impossible for me to understand even a word of. (The guys at
Rancherito are from near Guadalajara.)  My friend said  something like "No
puedo entenderlos tambien -- es un dialecto." (I can't understand them
either -- it's a dialect.)  Apparently, even within Mexico, Spanish varies
enough to create some problems intelligibility.  I wish there were a
linguistic atlas of Mexico.  I would like to see it.

As for the j/y business, I have heard tapes of Argentines whose
pronunciation of the pronoun "Yo" (I) sounds to my ear like "Joe."

Tim F

----- Original Message -----
From: Donald M. Lance <LanceDM at>
Sent: Tuesday, October 10, 2000 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: Mexican y (was: analytical versus inflected languages)

> There is not just one Spanish, and not just one Mexican Spanish.  The
Mexican Spanish I
> grew up hearing from locals and from workers who came from Guanajuato and
Nuevo Leon to
> our farm in the 1940s did not have an affricate like the English j-sound.
> approximation to our y-sound occurs in the [ie] diphthong, as in 'hielo' =
'ice' or in the
> Spanish y-consonant in a word like 'calle' = 'street' (Andalusian and
> varieties).  In other varieties of American Spanish, 'hielo' sounds
similar to English
> 'jello' but with a fortis palatal fricative that becomes affricated in
> position.  Perhaps the person who made the recording for Peter's
instructional material
> was a South American.  I suspect that assibilation of this [ie] diphthong
is becoming more
> widespread (a sound change in progress).  Interestingly, though it was not
a "normal"
> pronunciation in the Spanish I grew up hearing, these same speakers would
produce what
> Peter describes when they tried to say English words like 'yellow' -- an
> phenomenon rather than transfer.
> DMLance
> "Peter A. McGraw" wrote:
> > I'm not any kind of speaker of Spanish, but from two observations I
> > conclude that something at least remotely resembling English j does
> > in the Spanish spoken at least in some parts of Mexico.  It's
> > by the letter y, which is realized by a palatal, perhaps slightly
> > africated, and very lightly articulated stop, with a [j] offglide.
> > observation: a Mexican colleague of mine at Antioch College used it in
> > pronouncing the name of the town we lived in, which made it sound to an
> > English-speaker's ears like "Jello Springs."  The second observation was
> > made on a trip to Tijuana a few years ago.  Driving eastward out of
> > toward Tecate, we passed sign after sign, painted on fences, that said
> > "Yonque."  I finally realized that behind those fences were: junkyards.
> > obviously that palatal sound was interpreted in the borrowing of the
> > "junk" as the closest thing Mexican Spanish had to English j.
> >
> > I even have a third observation.  Many, MANY years ago, I had one of
> > "teach yourself Spanish" record sets, and the first phrase the speaker
> > modeled, and I repeated over and over trying to get it right, was "Yo
> > deseo" (spelling of second word not guaranteed), with the y pronounced
> > the palatal, affricated, off-glided stop I have tried to describe here.
> >
> > So anyway, since the Mexican sound is something like the English sound
> > spelled j and something like the sound spelled y, but not quite like
> > either, it sounds to American ears more like j when used for spelled y,
> > more like y when used for spelled j.
> >
> > Peter Mc.
> >
> > --On Tue, Oct 10, 2000 9:40 AM +0200 Paul Frank
> > <paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU> wrote:
> >
> > > From: Grant Barrett <gbarrett at MONICKELS.COM>
> > >> Now for something completely different.  Why do some native
> > >> speakers of
> > >> Spanish, when speaking English, substitute the "y" sound for the
> > >> "j" sound
> > >> (e.g. "Ayax" for "Ajax")?
> > >
> > > I reckon that it's because nothing remotely resembling the English j
> > > exists in Spanish, whereas the Spanish and English y sounds are quite
> > > similar. I'm a native speaker of Spanish, by the way, and I don't
> > > substitute the y sound for the j sound when speaking English. I'm glad
> > > you said some native speakers of Spanish.
> > >
> > > Paul
> > > ___________________________________
> > > Paul Frank
> > > Business, financial and legal translation
> > > From Chinese, German, French, Spanish,
> > > Italian, Dutch and Portuguese into English
> > > Thollon-les-Memises, 74500 Evian, France
> > > E-mail: paulfrank at
> >
> >
> >                                Peter A. McGraw
> >                    Linfield College   *   McMinnville, OR
> >                             pmcgraw at

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